tips for planning maternity leave

On my last day in the office before preparing to go on maternity leave with my first child, I worked until after 8pm. In the weeks that followed I regularly logged on my laptop to ‘wrap things up’. Now as a point to clarity, this was entirely my choice. At the time I felt that my maternity leave was an inconvenience to my company, team and clients and that I owed it to everyone to try and minimise the impact of maternity leave on them.

A few years on, I now find myself weeks away from maternity leave for my second child. However, my approach is very different this time around. So I thought I’d share my tips for how to plan for a smooth transition into maternity leave, that sets you, and your organisation up for success and creates opportunities for when you’re ready to return to work.

1. Establish clear deliverables

About a month out, set very clear deliverables of what you are going to achieve ahead of your leave. This sounds very obvious but the key to making this successful is the following:

  • Have a maximum of 3 deliverables. By limiting your focus, you align with your key objectives and avoid pages of to-do’s that will suck your time up
  • Communicate these 3 outputs with your boss and your boss’ boss. Seek their endorsement on your priorities and ask if there is anything else they see as important as you prepare for maternity leave

2. Be open about your plans for maternity leave

Even if you’re the size of a small apartment block, there will always be someone you work with who is oblivious to your pregnancy or your plans for maternity leave.

So, to avoid confusion down the track, be clear with your colleagues and clients about your intended leave. Doing this gives people the opportunity to ask questions or seeking information before you go. It also avoids disappointment when they realise you’re not around for a while.

This can be as simple as adding your leave dates to a leave register or updating your email signature ahead of time notifying people of when you’ll be off.

But the best approach from my experience is to just tell people. Have a normal conversation about how you are planning maternity leave. Avoid the urge to be awkward or as though you are letting the team down. You are not! (More on this below.)

3. Stop attending meetings & start delegating

Unless you are in a pure operations role, at some point you need to pull back from meetings and start delegating work. In discussion with your manager, have a plan for who will do what and start to handover your responsibilities in the few weeks leading up to your leave.

4. Share your ambitions

Just because you are planning a family, it does not mean you have to shut down or even pause your career ambitions.

In fact, this is perhaps the most important time to articulate what you want, after all, you won’t be there to have regular or incidental conversations or reviews.

So consider what your aspirations are, what type of flexibility (if any) you’d like and then share these thoughts openly with your manager, and I’d recommend your 2-up manager as well.

Remember things will change when you’re on leave (including management) and unfortunately, if you are seeking progression, out of sight, out of mind is often a reality for women on maternity leave.

So be explicit in asking to be contacted if an opportunity arises or if there are significant changes to the team or structure and follow up with an email as well.

5. Document everything

Prepare a formal handover document that outlines all your responsibilities and any key dates or upcoming milestones.

This should become ‘the bible’ for your role and be used as a reference for people whilst you away. Spend some time working on a clear concise structure (rather than a collection of rambling thoughts). My suggestions to make this effective are:

  • Include the task, frequency and stakeholder for each responsibility you have
  • Nominate who will be taking over responsibility in your absence. If you don’t have someone to handover to, make a note of this and highlight it as a follow-up action required by your manager
  • Take your manager, replacement and any other key stakeholders through the document before you go on leave. This will allow you to make updates and incorporate answers to any questions they may have.

A final thought about preparing for maternity leave

As driven, career-focused women, there can be a sense of awkwardness or even guilt about taking time off to have a family. But please remember, you are not letting the team down!

You are entitled to have children if you choose to and believe me, there will never be a perfect time.

So allow yourself to enjoy this phase your life, without fear or judgement about your choices. And bare in mind, there is no right or wrong way of taking maternity leave, nor is there a standard guide to ‘having it all’. So whether you choose to take a few weeks or years off – you do you!

Embrace your choices, know your rights and seek advice and guidance from other mums that have been through this before you. Their support can be invaluable as you prepare for maternity leave.

What are your tips or questions about preparing for maternity leave? Share in the comments below